Due to heightening concerns about illegal immigration and terrorist attacks, Canadians, Americans, and citizens of 60 other countries will need electronic travel authorizations linked to their passports to enter any of the 26 European countries in the Schengen* zone starting January 2021.
Under the European Travel Immigration and Authorization System (ETIAS) established by the European Travel Commission, citizens of countries who are normally allowed to travel to Schengen zone nations visa-free for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days will have to pass background checks ensuring that they are not security risks to the host countries.
In effect, the ETIAS have a purpose similar to Canada’s eTA (electronic Travel Authorization) or the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) in the US.
When announcing the introduction of the system in 2016, Jean Claude Juncker, European Commission president, said, “We need to know who is crossing our borders. This way we will know who is travelling to Europe before they even get here.”
The authorization system is also intended to reduce procedures and application times, improve the management of EU country borders, and assist in detecting and decreasing crime, terrorism, and irregular migration.
Online applications only
The applications, which must be done online and will cost the applicant €7, are designed to take approximately 10 minutes to complete, and besides the usual name, date, and place of birth, they ask for education and work experience, the first EU country to be visited, some background eligibility questions concerning medical conditions, prior travel to war-torn countries, any record of deportations, rejected visa applications, or criminal records. Applicants under 18 will pay no fees.
If the application is completed correctly and clears the ETIAS watch list, which is connected to databases in various countries and Interpol, approval will take only a few minutes. If, however, there is an alert, the application may have to be processed manually, a procedure that may take from four days to two weeks.
Normally, the travel authorization will be valid for three years and will allow an unlimited number of entries to Schengen countries—and once a traveller crosses over into the initial Schengen country, travel from that point on will be “borderless.”
Check for medical coverage
Though Canadians, Americans, and citizens of 60 other countries do not require visas for travel to Schengen countries, all other countries do, and those visas require proof of travel medical insurance worth at least €50,000. However, there are some countries within the Schengen zone, e.g., the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, and several others that have their own individual government requirements for medical insurance. For country-specific exit/entry rules, click on your destination country or any country you will be transiting through on Travel Canada’s website.
Wherever you may be travelling in Europe, you should always first verify the medical insurance requirements of the countries you will be visiting (regardless whether they are visa-free or not). Medical costs remain extraordinarily high in all European countries. And unless you are a bona fide citizen or permanent resident of any of those countries, you are responsible for your own medical or hospital charges.
*What is Schengen?
The Schengen Zone encompasses 26 mostly EU countries (except UK and Ireland) that allow border-free travel among each other. For a full list of Schengen countries, click here.
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